The Sandfleas Almost Won

Sept. 3

Last night was just about the final straw. Over dinner we discussed just what kind of things I was afraid of. Seeing that I’m ok with snakes, crocs, spiders, etc., they were surprised to find that crickets, grasshoppers and roaches were at the top of my list. So naturally as I opened the door to my room after dinner was over, a huge roach was sitting on my boot. “Oh, this is just GREAT!” I yelled at it. So I tried to kick my boot out of the door into the hallway. Of course that didn’t work out and instead it made a beeline toward my bathroom. I attempted to stop it with the boot and partially squished it but it was still alive and well enough to keep running. Three kicks later I got it out of the room, with my boot flying out into the hall with it and I slammed my door closed. Phew. Better now. Then I see another one, just as large on the other bed. Then one on the wall. Ok…ignore them. I will not win.

Large beetle in my room in addition to the roaches

It was still hot, like that’s a huge surprise. It only gets slightly cooler in the dead of night and that doesn’t even last for long. So I take my iPad, climb under the mozzie net and attempt to settle in. I turn my flashlight off and work only by the light of the iPad. Naturally this is starting to attract the sand fleas. Squish. Easy enough to kill on my screen. Leaves a little smudge mark but I’d rather kill them than be eaten alive. Another one. Splat. Two more. One more, many more…now my screen is getting filthy and hindering my surfing ability. They won’t stop. Ok…turn it off. Maybe they will go away.

I try to sleep and eventually get there. Then around maybe 2:30am or so I feel them. I scratch my leg, I scratch my neck, my face. Then I just try to wrap myself up like a pupa waiting to become a butterfly. Helps slightly but now I’m sweating. Good god, I can’t win. I start thinking about trying to cut my whole trip short just because of these little blood sucking bastards. I think about what it will take and how many emails back and forth before I get answers about flight changes. I can split the cost of the boat ride with Rob since he was going to Karanambu this morning and that will help with the extra fees I’ll have to pay. So at 4:30 I try to get on the Internet. Nothing. I try and try. I wait until almost 6 before heading down so I don’t wake up Rob, whose room is beneath me.

Fernando is now up and he tries on his laptop and gets on. Stupid, STUPID IPAD I HATE YOU!!! So I start the process of looking for different flights and realize this will be a nightmare. Just grin and bear it and forge on with the plan. Don’t let those little bastards drive you out of Guyana. I eat breakfast and calm down.

I decide to take a walk in the woods behind the house that Fernando mentioned and asked Jose to show me the path. Anyone who knows me realizes I get lost going around the block but I have faith in myself and feel confident I can do this. How hard could it be? I ask him, “It’s just one trail right, I can’t get lost?”
“Right, just one trail it leads out to the savannah…you can’t get lost. If you do, just yell and I will come find you.”
So I walk. I break some branches along the way just in case. Then I come to a clearing where I make a little pile of rocks. Just in case. I forge on into the hot sun and tall grass and come to a road. I look around, see some houses and make a mental note. I turn right and start walking down the road. No problem. I am now at the top of a hill and the breeze feels great and I can see the river! Awesome, I’ll walk down to the river. I get to a landing and see a few dugout canoes and can hear music coming from somewhere but nobody is around. I shoot some pictures and then hear something big in the woods. Can’t see anything. Don’t know if it’s a person or animal. Gut feeling tells me to go back so I do.

passion flower caiman house

I walk back, looking for the trail that led me to the road and I’m pretty sure I find it. You know where this is headed don’t you? I don’t see my broken branches, I don’t see my rock pile but I do come up on the creek that I crossed but it doesn’t look familiar. I walk along the path to the right some more and realize I’m running into cobwebs. Nope, that wasn’t the way I came. I turn back and cross the creek anyway. I follow a path up a hill and come to a clearing and see a house and some men hanging out. One yells, “Are you lost?” Well, yes and no but I don’t admit to it and instead say “I don’t know.” He proceeds to introduce himself and all of his buddies. One older guy nicknamed Snake has a cup in his hand and offers me a drink, saying this is their local brew. I don’t want to insult him so I take a sip of this cassava based concoction and it actually doesn’t taste too bad. I hand it back and thank him. I ask where caiman house is and he points to a path and says, the women up there will show me the way. I follow the path and see the soccer field and know where I am now. I sure hope I never get dropped in the jungle someday. I would never make it out alive!!

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I Don’t Really Want to Talk About It…

 

 

So I’ll start off on a lighter note and save it for last.

Late yesterday afternoon we took a walk to see where the Essequibo and Rupununi rivers meet. However they were not currently joined, I assume due to the start of the dry season. We walked further up into the savannah and watched the sunset which was insanely beautiful. The walk up was longer than I expected and it was quite hot. The view of the savannah and the setting sun was well worth the trip though. Jose also gave me a little lesson about medicinal plants along the way.

The trip back graced us with stars as far as the eye could see and a very clear view of the Milky Way. We saw a few night jars bedding down for the evening right on the trail. Jose said that they sometimes get hit by bikes or motorcycles due to their poor lack of planning. I felt badly for them, but what ya gonna do? We also saw a calf grazing not sure where mom was. Jose also heard one or two Pygmy owls but we didn’t see them.

So we got back to the house and started eating dinner when Jose announced, in a hurried tone, that there was a giant anteater in the village. We ran out of the house following behind him. Apparently he had seen this juvenile in the village before. It had caused quite a commotion among the people and it was foraging in the tall grass. We got a better look at it and saw its face was bloody. It appeared to have quite a big gash. Jose assumed it was probably from the kids either beating on it with a stick or using a slingshot. It was quite heartbreaking and actually difficult for me to relive even writing about. How could anyone hurt such a harmless and beautiful animal like that? He had said that the kids had done something like that before to it as well. We can only hope that it heals up ok and that nothing else happens again. I asked if it was tame enough to at least clean the wound but I also forgot about the large claws so it was decided that we shouldn’t. I would hope that some kind of education would result from that incident, but again, who knows.

 

 

Night Hunting on the Rupununi

The morning started off with a canoe ride to look for birds, monkeys and reptiles. I saw my first black caiman lazily floating in the water and then disappeared behind a bush. We also saw brown capuchin monkeys playing in the trees and a variety of birds. It was a nice short trip.

Around 4:30 we went out for the night hunt of caiman and whatever else might be out there. It had rained earlier in the afternoon thankfully. It was cooler now and quite tolerable. One of the first birds that sticks out in my mind was the jabiru stork. He was perched in a tree. I did get a picture but the head is hidden. I got a look through some binoculars and man, was it huge!

jabiru in tree guyana

Next we floated in between some trees into a lagoon which held the beautiful Victoria Amazonica lilies. I’ve been waiting a while to see these things and I was not disappointed. It was covered with them. We witnessed beetle after beetle enter this one white flower until it was starting to open up fully. The sun was setting and I grabbed a shot of the pink sky and the reflection off the water. We were going to come back after dark to look for caiman there.

We cruised the river, shining the light along the banks when Jose found a tree boa. Sweet little thing, about 4 1/2′ long and skinny. Very docile. He passed it to me and I held it without incident. Took some pictures and then let it go.

We then headed back to the lagoon, but this time it was creepier. It was a tight squeeze through the submerged trees and they scraped up against the metal boat while tons of insects flew every which way. Mostly into my face, mouth and hair. We immediately saw three eye shines and went to go check them out.

They were little guys and Jose snared it and plopped it on top of a lily pad. Cute little thing, speckles of yellow on the body, and like my friendĀ Jan used to say, “squishy like a water bottle”. He was very tolerant of us and we noticed his little buddy two lily pads away watching the fiasco unfolding. This particular one had not been tagged yet and we didn’t have the equipment to do it so we just released him.

There had been lightning in the distance and it was now getting closer. Ok, metal boat + lightning = dead people. We hurried back to shore but in the meantime saw a capybara swimming bravely across the river. Weird looking thing, like a rat on steroids. Should’ve named him lucky considering we counted at least seven or eight croc eye shines along the way. Hope he made it safely to wherever he was going!

What fun!! We will go out again tomorrow and try to catch a larger one, We did see an eight footer but didn’t attempt to catch it. Time to rest up for tomorrow.

 

 

 

I’m Staying Where?!

I forgot to write about my first actual night in Guyana before I went to Maipaima. Since Guy had driven to Lethem on his motorcycle, he had a friend drive me into the village. I had no idea that I would NOT be going to Maipaima that night.

We drove for at least an hour, passing through the savannah and the odd termite mounds that looked like huge melting ice cream cones. It was starting to get dark and we started to finally see some houses. Very few houses. Sean pulled up to this house/cabin and said, “This is where you’ll be staying for tonight” then shut off the truck. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me?” but I refrained. Why would he be kidding? I started to get a little nervous. It was, for me, in the middle of nowhere. Guy showed up on his bike and I got the official tour. Reality was now setting in.

The place had no electricity and it had an outhouse and outside shower. Ugh. Then I realized it was a one bedroom and that I would actually be out here all alone. All night. I remained positive. Guy cooked me dinner by candlelight. Farine, fried chicken and tomato salad. His dad showed up too for a while and we ate. It was getting late and I asked how safe I’d be out here. “Oh, don’t worry about it, you’re perfectly safe. Nobody will bother you.” He is telling me this as he’s shuttering up all of the windows, which by the way had no screens and it was damn hot. “Oh, and one other thing, make sure if you go outside to not let the front door shut or it will lock on you.” And with that, they were off.

I looked in the kitchen, only to find that he hadn’t cleaned up anything. There was oil in the pot where he made the farine and chicken. There were raw chicken parts just sitting on the side of the sink. Raw chicken juice all over the place. Yeah, THAT won’t attract any animals tonight. God dammit. I found a big spoon to pick up the chicken with and threw it in the bin which luckily had a lid. I put some water on the sink and brushed it into the drain. Nice send off there.

Holy god. This was basically my first time roughing it. It was just a step up from camping AND I was alone. I tried not to lose it and I didn’t. I figured I’d just try to go to sleep as fast as possible. The bed had a mosquito net and so I laid it out and climbed under it. I tried to sleep. Then it started to rain. At least it cooled off, but rain was coming in through the windows so I had to shut them which made it unbearably hot. Not to mention I had no idea what was crawling around in there or what could come through those screenless windows. Every noise startled me. I heard motorcycles roaring by at all hours of the night but I did finally get to sleep.

Then, at who knows what time, I woke up and it was still dark out, and I had to pee. I thought, maybe I can just hold it until morning. But what if I get a bladder infection just because I’m scared to go outside. Which is worse?? By this time, I was wide awake after pondering for many minutes. I got the flashlight and tried to turn it on before climbing out from under the net. It wouldn’t come on. You gotta be kidding me. It was working fine earlier. Then it flickered on, I got happy and it went out. I had to pee really badly now. I fussed with it more and it came on and stayed on. Ok…I can do this. I shined the light beyond my bed, coast was clear. I shook out my shoes and slipped them on. The wooden boards creaked beneath me as I made my way to the front door. “Don’t let the door close on you” I thought to myself. Put chair in front of door. Check. Shine light outside. Just WALK, WOMAN!! He also made it a point of telling me to make sure I shine the light in front of me when I walk out to the john. Check. Nothing scurried out of my way. I open the door to the outhouse, shine light in. Nothing there. Wow. I pee. Ahhhhhh. Much better. Wide awake now. I made it back inside without incident.

Somehow I fell asleep again and then I hear my alarm clock. A rooster. YES!!! Morning is here. I woke up, got dressed and decided I didn’t need a shower. I walked outside into the cool air and watched the sun rise. Dew drops stuck to every tuft of grass. It was simply beautiful. I took some pictures then went inside to get my things together and wait for Guy to show up.

I had the front door open and I heard someone say my name. A guy that I didn’t know was standing there in a warm jacket and a cup of coffee in his hand. He looked American.
“You’re Stephanie, right?”
“Uh, yes…how did you know?”
“It’s a small village, word gets around fast. I’m Noah.”
He went on to tell me that he was out here doing research and lived in the house across the way. I hadn’t even noticed it last night. He had just gotten there a day or two earlier and was spending a YEAR there. He had attended UVA which was quite a coincidence. I told him I was from Virginia. You come thousands of miles out to the middle of nowhere and here’s someone from my town. Weird.

The village was coming alive and kids and adults rode by on bikes. Guy finally showed up with a young girl, who was there to clean up the place. I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled to find the mess he left behind either. We ate breakfast and waited for the ox cart. I made it though the night amazingly enough. I just told myself I had nothing to be afraid of and it worked! This is how my wild adventure began.

 

Caiman House

I arrived yesterday without incident (for once). The ox cart was quite bearable and Fernando appeared out of nowhere in the jungle. He had been told I would be showing up around 9am but the ox cart didn’t come to get me until 10:30 so he had been waiting for quite some time. It was nice to see the truck parked across the deep, muddy ditch waiting to take me away.

The road was just a suggestion for the most part and for the hour or so we only saw one motorcycle along the way. The savannah stretched as far as the eye could see with the strange termite mounds dotting the landscape. The road was a dark red and we had to drive through deep water sometimes which almost came up to the window. Good ol Toyota made it through just fine, with only a loud beeping noise when the water was too deep for its liking.

Fernando said they had seen a small anaconda near one of the bridges on the way in and moved it out of the way. Sure would have been a nice little gift for me upon our meeting, but I’m sure I will see more eventually.

The lodge is quite beautiful, with large red and yellow day lilies surrounding the brick structures. There is a garden, a beautiful pink flowering tree and benabs with hammocks beneath them. I can see the mountains from where I sit, as well as out my window in my room. Black collared lizards have free reign of the place and head bob constantly. They are good for everyone since they eat the bugs. I typically find them in my room or hanging on the screens and they seem to wonder who I am. I bend down and smile and tell them how beautiful they are.

This morning we took a dug out canoe on the river and within minutes, I spotted a black caiman swimming across toward the trees. It was about eight feet long. They can reach up to fifteen. We saw Some brown capuchin monkeys in the trees as well as a lot of strange birds. The water was peaceful with only one fisherman passing by and locals by the rivers edge bathing and doing laundry.

black caiman guyana

It’s Amerindian heritage month so there are celebrations taking place. They are narrowing down soccer players from each village for the final competition. There is also cassava grating, fire starting and drinking of the local brew going on.

Tonight we will do some night spotting for creatures so I will just relax for once and check out the celebrations. It’s quite cool right now with a lot of cloud cover. It’s a nice change.

20120901-133555.jpg

Bullet Ants, Bats and Spiders, Oh My!

August 27

I had my first foray into the jungle today. I was awoken last night by Kevin, who asked if the opossum had come into my room. Well, not that I was aware of! So he looked around and the coast was clear. So I tried to get back to sleep. I did, finally…after the shock of humidity wore off. I turned on my hand held fan again for a little while until I cooled off.

Then, at who knows what time, I heard something. It was still dark. What IS that? Am I dreaming? It couldn’t be manmade. I’m in the middle of freekin nowhere. It must be an animal but what could possibly make that sound? It sounded like a UFO was landing. A big flying saucer was landing in the clearing, that must be it. Then the toucans started up and the UFO noise never came back. It was still dark so I went back to sleep. Apparently I slept too late since I woke up and then soon thereafter, found out my breakfast was ready. I asked Kevin what that sound was. Howler monkeys. They didn’t sound like the ones I was used to. These are red howlers and I’ve only heard black ones. These are far creepier sounding. The only thing I can compare it to are those movies where researchers are living in Antarctica. They open the door to the outside and the wind is howling at like 2000 miles an hour. The monkeys state their presence to the other troops, so when one stops, another one starts soon thereafter. It is a cool way to wake up, albeit a bit early for my taste.

We took off into the jungle around 8:30 and let me give you a word of advice: don’t bother bringing your antiperspirant. It won’t work. I’m only partially kidding, but I found out what 100% humidity was all about. We were off to the bat cave and I had no idea how far it was. I only brought 1 bottle of water. After about an hour 1/2 or so we saw the sign to the cave. I figured it was just around the bend. It was not. It took another 45 minutes to an hour to get there. However, along the way, Kevin pointed out a nest of bullet ants. Wow, were they huge! I’d say at least an inch 1/2 long. He knocked on the little tree they were at the base of with his machete and they came running out. I got nowhere near them! I did get some video of them because the pictures just don’t do them justice.

So we end up at the cave and he says, “There are no bats here.” What? I want my money back! But we stepped up in there and shined a light around and sure enough, some came flying out. Not many, but at least they were there. Then Kevin found a relative of the tarantula on the ceiling guarding a big white egg sac. She didn’t budge. Thankfully. It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. The sac looked kind of like a squashed marshmallow. Then he found one of those odd scorpion spiders. He said that if you get bitten by one, you’ll cough up blood for a while and get very sleepy. Probably won’t die unless you’re allergic to them. I, once again, kept my distance.

Some of the other animals we saw along the trail was a single male spider monkey, a couple of centipedes, a few morpho butterflies, four dung beetles (they were small) and heard a lot of weird bird calls.

The trails were fairly muddy due to the rain last night and we had to cross a couple of creeks but overall, I managed to stay fairly clean. When we got back, the creek here looked pretty inviting so I took a dip…but not all the way in. It was the first time I had goosebumps since I arrived in Guyana!

 

Back on the Wagon

Aug 31

I’m sitting here waiting for the ox cart to arrive. Luckily, it hasn’t rained in about three days so the road should be in better condition. I just hope Bessie isn’t going to be pulling me today.

There is a large rut right before the lodge where it gets very muddy. When we came back from our walk yesterday, we noticed a lot of tadpoles in the water there. Last night as I tried to sleep, I worried about them getting crushed by the cart. So this morning I had the bright idea of trying to get them out of there so I ran it past Kevin. The verdict was to not try. Dry season is coming and the water would dry up anyway. Plus I think some will still survive because there is more water than I thought in there. Can’t be interfering with nature I suppose.

As we were walking back, Nicholas showed up and said he found jaguar prints right across the creek very close to the lodge! We went to see them and boy, were they impressive. A couple of really good tracks in the mud. Kevin thinks the cat was probably five years old. I took a lot of pictures. He said he thought he had heard it last night. The prints were heading in our direction. So that was a good way to start the morning.

We will see what the rest of the day holds for me. It’s about 10:30 and I had hoped we were getting an earlier start. My stomach started acting up yesterday after lunch and I’m feeling a bit lethargic. I decided to take the cipro even though I don’t really want to. Might as well head it off at the pass just in case it’s something nasty. I was thinking how fortunate I’ve been to not be sick so far. But maybe this will pass without incident. I hope.

Some final photos from my stay…

Ingenious way to charge Kevin’s cell phone with some AA batteries, a hammer and a wire.

 

Maipaima lodge

Maipaima lodge

Bushmaster skeleton